Monday, 6 August 2012

NZIFF Double Classic Film Review: NZIFF Presents "Easy Street" (1917) and "Blackmail" (1929)

For the 2012 NZIFF, I have watched the Charlie Chaplin classic, Easy Street. This 1917 short comedy film by Charlie Chaplin. In the film, the police are failing to maintain law and order and so it is Chaplin, as the Little Tramp character, who steps forward (rather reluctantly) to rid the street of bullies, help the poor, save women from madmen and generally keep the peace.

For those who are not familiar with Chaplin, this review will delve into his life and career. Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin, KBE (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English actor and filmmaker who rose to fame in the silent era. Chaplin became a worldwide icon through his screen persona "the Tramp" and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death at age 88, and encompassed both adulation and controversy. Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his films. He was a perfectionist, and his financial independence enabled him to spend years on the development and production of a picture. His films are characterized by slapstick combined with pathos, typified in the Tramp's struggles against adversity. Many contain social and political themes, as well as autobiographical elements.

The performances were all terrific and humorous, especially Charlie Chaplin’s performance. His performance was the most special of all as he is a master choreographer with his brilliantly executed scenes. Every single one of his gags in his performance were all comedy and cinematic gems. Every time I laughed so hard. I can’t begin to fathom how much time and effort went into his scenes and choreography, from the inception to the finished, polished product on the screen. He is, without a doubt, one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers, comedians and show men who ever lived.

Easy Street was a delight to watch. Without the dialogue, you can still enjoy the magic of a Charlie Chaplin film. Arguably the best of Charlie Chaplin's 12 Lone Star/Mutual comedies, the film gives us a look at the environment in which Chaplin grew up, the slums of South London. Indeed the title of the film is likely a reference to the street where Chaplin was born: East Street in Walworth.

Simon says Easy Street receives:

In addition to Easy Street, I also watched the classic Hitchcock film Blackmail. This 1929 British thriller drama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film is based on the play Blackmail by Charles Bennett, as adapted by Hitchcock and Benn Levy. The film centers on Alice White, who embarks on an affair and is invited by an artist to visit his studio. The man tries to rape Alice, but she kills him with a knife to defend herself. But ultimately becomes blackmailed by a criminal who witnessed the murder and has her glove from the scene of the crime. To matters worse, her boyfriend Detective Frank Webber is assigned to the case and is determined to find the killer.

The film began production as a silent film. To cash in on the new popularity of talkies. Hitchcock thought the idea absurd and surreptitiously filmed almost the entire feature in sound. Blackmail, marketed as one of Britain's earliest "all-talkie" feature films, was recorded in the RCA Photophone sound-on-film process. Lead actress Anny Ondra was raised in Prague and had a heavy Czech accent that was felt unsuitable for the film. Sound was in its infancy at the time and it was impossible to post-dub Ondra's voice. Rather than replace her and re-shoot her portions of the film, actress Joan Barry was hired to actually speak the dialogue off-camera while Anny lip-synched them for the film. Ondra's career in the UK was hurt by sound. She returned to Germany and retired from films after making a few additional movies and marrying boxer Max Schmeling in 1933. The film was a critical and commercial hit. The sound was praised as inventive. A completed silent version of Blackmail was released in 1929 shortly after the talkie version hit theaters. Despite the popularity of the silent version, history best remembers the landmark talkie version of Blackmail.

The film starred Anny Ondra, John Longden, and Cyril Ritchard, and featuring Donald Calthrop, Sara Allgood and Charles Paton.  The performances were all terrific, especially Anny Ondra’s performance as Hitchcock’s victim/femme fatale Alice White. Hitchcock heroines tend to be lovely, cool blondes who seem proper at first but, when aroused by passion or danger, respond in a more sensual, animal, or even criminal way. The famous victims in The Lodger are all blondes. In The 39 Steps, Hitchcock's glamorous blonde star, Madeleine Carroll, is put in handcuffs. In Marnie (1964), the title character (played by Tippi Hedren) is a thief. In To Catch a Thief (1955), Francie (Grace Kelly) offers to help a man she believes is a burglar. In Rear Window, Lisa (Grace Kelly again) risks her life by breaking into Lars Thorwald's apartment. The best-known example is in Psycho (1960) where Janet Leigh's unfortunate character steals $40,000 and is murdered by a reclusive psychopath. Hitchcock's last blonde heroine was—years after Dany Robin and her "daughter" Claude Jade in Topaz (1969)—Barbara Harris as a phony psychic turned amateur sleuth in his final film, 1976's Family Plot. In the same film, the diamond smuggler played by Karen Black could also fit that role, as she wears a long blonde wig in various scenes and becomes increasingly uncomfortable about her line of work. Ondra’s was mesmerizing, I could not take my eyes off of her and was drawn to her character and her conundrum.

Hitchcock’s first talkie, Blackmail, remains of one his most entertaining films of his early British career. To conclude, a Teutonic experiment in ambiguity and an astringent comedy of wandering relationships, Alfred Hitchcock's first talkie offers scene upon scene of ingenious synergy of camera and meaning. Another Hitchcock triumph to say the least.

Simon says Blackmail receives:

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